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Yoga and Well-being

For most people in the U.S., the term yoga means doing a class of difficult physical postures.  For the purposes of addressing people with chronic illness, it is necessary to expand the limits of this preconceived idea of yoga.  Here we will explore how yoga relates to each person individually, and how it can be applied to your life as a person living with a chronic illness.

What Is Yoga?

The term yoga comes from the ancient language of Sanskrit and is translated to mean "union".   For centuries, the interpretation of what "union" means has been explored and debated.  In this context however, we will take union to mean the bringing together of mind, body and energy (spirit).  

When we align our mind, body and energy, we can experience yoga or union.  This experience is felt as feelings of  peace, contentment and well being.  

(We will explore the physical practice of yoga through asanas, yoga poses, in a separate article.)


How Can Yoga Help People with Chronic Illness?

For those living with an illness that produces chronic pain, discomfort and emotional distress, the notion of being able to achieve a state of peace and well being is of tremendous hope and encouragement.  The question remains as to how to get to a place where this experience is possible.  The answer is by learning to create a union between your mind, body and energy through practice.

You have most likely  already experienced the results of such an alignment by chance.  For example, think back to a time where you were experiencing a situation that made you extremely happy or joyful.  When you were in the moment of that experience, didn't your chronic pain lesson or disappear from your mind?  If it did, then you changed your experience of your chronic pain and replaced it with a momentary experience of happiness.  


What you can achieve through yoga, is a prolonged state of joy and happiness, that becomes your ongoing life experience. 

Achieving this state can be easy or difficult depending on each individual's perception of their reality.  Not everyone will perceive the exact same situation in the exact same way, which means reality is subjective.   Understanding that your perception creates your reality is very powerful.  Once you are clear on this concept, you will realize that it is you who creates your reality and not your situation.  

What the yoga can do, is help you achieve better clarity on why you perceive situations the way that you do.   Yoga, through practice, can strip away preconceived notions, prejudices and judgments, allowing you to simply perceive and experience what is.  Another way of saying this, is that when you drop your judgments or opinions of an experience and simply experience what is, you are able to be completely present in the moment and being in the present moment is how you experience yoga.   


Using the Breath to Access the Present Moment

One way of reaching a place of clearer perception is through your breath.  Quietly sitting and turning your attention to your breath is the first step to becoming present.  Once you have your attention firmly focused on your breathing, start to follow your breath in and out.  Keep your attention on the flow of your breath going in and out until you notice that your heart rate has become slow and steady.  After several minutes of the mindful breathing, you can stop paying attention to your breath and turn your attention to how you feel.  Try not to analyze how you feel, try just to acknowledge what you feel.  

Maybe you feel no different at first, or maybe you feel a little calmer and clearer. Hopefully, you are more aware of your physical body and experienced freedom from your thoughts for a short period.  Whatever it is you feel, notice if you have perceived anything differently after this exercise.  With some practice on this type of breathing, it should become easier and easier to quiet the mind chatter and experience the present moment.  When you give your mind the job of following your breath, it gives it something to do so that it doesn't return to the endless dialogue and commentary in your head. With this mind chatter out of the way, you can experience presence.  

Let's now consider how you can use yoga to create greater clarity of perception and bring things together in order to relate them to your life and pursuit of well- being and peace while living with chronic illness.  


Chronic Illness as an Opening for Greater Clarity

The very fact that you have a chronic illness may provide an opening for greater clarity.  People that experience an illness are often much more in tune with their body and how they are feeling.  You may weigh in on how you feel daily when you are ill to evaluate your level of pain or energy for each day.  This mind body connection is often already in place simply due to the fact that you are ill.  A step further into clarity can come from the realization that your perception creates your reality.  You can judge for yourself how you perceive your illness.  There are many people who perceive themselves to be a victim of unfairness because they are burdened with illness.  Then there are those who perceive themselves to simply be ill and not judge themselves at all.  This rational observation as to how you perceive yourself can have a profound effect on your well- being.  Considering that you have the power to perceive life according to your will and not view life as a something that is happening to you, gives you control over things in a way you may or may not have considered.  

Despite the discomfort, pain and difficulty of being ill, you ultimately do have control over aspects of your life.  You have the ability to control your perception of yourself as a person living with illness.  You have the ability to make a mind body connection by being more attuned to what is going on in your body.  You also have the ability to empathize and understand other people because of your heightened connection with yourself.  Bringing in the third piece of energy/spiritual connection to your already established mind/body connection creates the full circle of union.  

Continue to spend time daily on the breathing exercise that was described earlier and you will slowly notice that you begin to perceive things clearer.  Use this as a first step in your journey on exploring ways to connect your mind, body and energy (spirit), in order to establish harmony and peace within yourself so that you can create a reality that brings you peace spontaneously as you live with chronic illness.   

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